Antonio Conte was supposed to be a breath of fresh air at Tottenham.
After Jose Mourinho’s reign quickly became stale and Nuno Espirito Santo’s time at the club never really took off, the Italian needed to bring a sense of structure and direction to a club that seemed to have gone astray. With an impressive track record, including last season’s scudetto with Inter Milan, and a determined personality, Conte seemed the obvious choice to get things back on track at the north London club.
Things started well. Despite taking over as Spurs headed into the chaotic winter schedule, Conte became the club’s first manager to go unbeaten in their opening eight games. He guided the team to a draw against Liverpool, and he also saw him pass top-flight West Ham in the League Cup.
However, the Italian’s progress seems to have stalled in recent weeks. The Londoners have lost their last three league games in a row, including a late comeback from Southampton and a damaging loss to Wolves which saw the Midlands side leapfrog Spurs in the table.
Coupled with a disappointing January transfer window, it feels like Conte has hit his first real stumbling block. And the difficult results have led to frowning comments in the press that underline frustration and a difference of opinion with club management.
Conte says Spurs have a 1% chance of finishing in the top four
In an interview with beIN Sports, Conte shared a telling statement in which he didn’t show much confidence that his club could even secure a Champions League spot this season.
“I always said that I should only feel one percent of the possibility of winning the championship,” said the Italian coach. “Here it’s strange because maybe I feel a one percent possibility of finishing fourth. The level of this league is very high and there’s not a lot of space for other teams than the best teams.”
With several clubs competing for what will likely be a remaining Champions League spot, the pressure is on to avoid any slippage. Conte’s recent comments suggest he’s not confident his side are up to the task, with Tottenham having lost momentum after their recent games.
The Spurs boss added: “It’s important not to be afraid, we have to want to fight.”
The comments aren’t surprising, given Conte’s determined personality, but what once looked like a realistic goal of a top-four finish is slowly slipping away with the losing streak.
Conte criticizes the Spurs transfer window
After practically resigning himself to failing in the race for the top four, the manager didn’t sweeten the waters with his comments about the club’s transfer window in January.
Although Tottenham picked up Juventus duo Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur at the end of the window, they saw four starts in Giovani Lo Celso, Dele Alli, Tanguy Ndombele and Bryan Gil, who were four players who did not feature in Conte’s plans.
The Italian manager is well known for demanding to be supported in the transfer window by his employers, and he seemed less than happy with the job done in January.
“What happened in January is not easy. Four players left in January. Four important players for Tottenham, two arrived. So even numerically instead of strengthening you, maybe you have, on the paper, weakened.”
It goes without saying that no manager wants to admit that his team has been weakened before a tight and competitive run-in. He seems to have accepted that he won’t get players who are the finished product and that Spurs will focus on young players they can develop. He said: “The vision for the club that I have achieved is this and will continue to be this.”
However, for a manager accustomed to results-oriented, short-term thinking and delivering results quickly, it remains to be seen whether he is well-suited to such a setup.
Conte has an 18-month short-term contract worth $40 million. Although there is an option to extend the deal, according to reports, the comments are likely to highlight the Italian’s long-term commitment to Spurs’ cause.
Tottenham losing streak
In their recent run of games, Spurs’ underlying numbers haven’t been dire, and that suggests their performances haven’t justified the empty haul they’ve delivered.
However, the points on the board will determine who wins Champions League football at the end of the season. Although a loss to Chelsea can be excused, especially when sandwiched between an added time double to win at Leicester and a good home win against Brighton to advance in the FA Cup.
However, back-to-back home defeats to Southampton and Wolves are far more alarming for Spurs supporters. Both are top-to-mid-table teams, with Wolves looking to compete for a European spot, and the type of teams Spurs would need to beat if they are to become a top-four team.
Going back further, the relative ease with which Chelsea dealt with Spurs in their two-legged League Cup semi-final will be worrying, and losing three times to Chelsea in five games hurts Tottenham particularly badly.
Tottenham Hotspurs next schedule
Things don’t get any easier for Tottenham, as Conte’s men travel to league leaders Man City on February 19, and it may be hard to stop the rot against Pep Guardiola’s side.
However, their next three games are at Burnley and Leeds, before hosting Everton.
With all three teams languishing in the lower parts of the table, Conte can see this run of games, along with an FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough sandwiched in between, as the perfect opportunity to regain that feeling of victory.
Just as important as the results will be the message Conte sends to the press about Tottenham’s prospects and his role in helping the club take the next step.